Spiritual Life in a Bottomless Pit
Many of us experience these days as living in a time which is like falling into a bottomless pit.
We feel overwhelmed when we look at the world around us. Some days are as if the four horsemen of the Apocalypse are unleashed on us. War, famine, pestilence, and death fill our daily news.
It feels like a long time since we heard good news, since anything made us laugh out loud.
Some of us struggle to remember a time when we felt we were making progress, when life was getting better. We are afraid of the pandemic, afraid of the economy, afraid of crime, afraid of injustice.
Our lives feel like sliding down the sides of a bottomless pit. Where will we end up landing? Will we ever stop falling?
We do not remember when we began to fall, or what we did to deserve this.
Some of us work hard to help people. Their physical and emotional and spiritual needs cry out to us. We commit ourselves to helping other people, and it feels like we are losing ground. People need our help, and their needs threaten to overwhelm us.
So much seems to depend on what we do. Each day tells us about new needs in other parts of the world.
Each time we help someone, we begin to feel more people lining up to ask for our help. There seems to be an infinite number of needs asking for our finite resources.
We begin to feel we are throwing our resources into a bottomless pit, and it is not really helping.
How can we make any progress in solving all, or any, of these overwhelming problems? Who do we help first?
Are things really as hopeless as they seem?
Recognizing a Bottomless Pit
Many of us want to believe we are strong, effective people. Most of us are certain we are above average. We like to think we have the skills to make a difference in the world, to help make things better, to avoid a bottomless pit.
The challenge for us is discerning how and when we can make a contribution, and when and where we cannot.
Our world is awash in information and opinion. We have no corresponding supply of wisdom or discernment.
The tsunamis of opinion and information sweep across the ocean of the Internet, drawing us into the tide. Our attention is distracted by competing waves of crisis and concern. We need to do something about devastating global diseases, natural disasters, economic turmoil, wars and rumors of wars. There is pain and suffering around the world which seems far beyond our control.
Many people demand our attention and ask for our help. We live in a world where we know people across the country and around the globe.
How do we decide what to do, where to help? People asking for our help threatens to become a bottomless pit.
Our first step in recognizing a bottomless pit which will overwhelm us is taking time for contemplation. Surrounded and inundated by all these requests for our help, we need to reflect to appreciate ourselves and the world around us.
As we begin to understand our own core values and the needs all around us, we will start to appreciate how they fit together.
Our choices about where to help and how to act in the world rely on who we are as much as the needs we recognize. The decisions we make will help inform the choices we face, and make, in the future.
Living Outside the Bottomless Pit
We reflect, and our decisions about how and when we choose to act inform our continuing contemplation. As we take time to pay attention to what is happening within us and around us, we gain new insights and questions.
Our experiences fuel our reflection rather than pushing us over the edge into a bottomless pit.
It is not about us turning our backs on the world or refusing to pay attention. In fact, we are taking time to pay more attention, to seek wisdom and discern how we fit into the world.
We take time to listen and spiritual life draws us into balanced relationships with ourselves and the people around us.
It is not a journey with a clear checklist and easily recognized steps. We practice listening and build a healing relationship.
We begin to recognize we are no longer teetering on the edge or sliding down the side of a bottomless pit. Our practices reveal to us how our deepest values can connect with the people around us. The parts of ourselves we have kept hidden, even from ourselves, draw us into authentic community with the world.
Contemplation becomes our path to living outside the bottomless pit.
Beyond Our Bottomless Pit
Spiritual life is about being active and helping people in the world around us. It is, at the same time, also about recognizing and appreciating our own true selves and putting our values into practice.
We take time to pay attention and stop being pushed around by everything around us. Life is not about controlling what happens in the world, or in other people. As we listen to spiritual life within us it draws us toward itself. We begin to realize we are living our true lives beyond the bottomless pit in the world.
Our life is not a test we need to pass or a set of tasks we need to complete. Each of us is invited to live into our true self in new ways each day.
Spiritual life gives us hope which shows us we are not falling in a bottomless pit.
Who are we becoming today? How is this journey of life carrying us beyond our bottomless pit into new ways of living in the world?
Where will our next steps take us?
How will we recognize each bottomless pit we face today?
When will we begin living beyond our bottomless pit this week?
[Image by James St. John]
Greg Richardson is a spiritual director in Southern California. He is a recovering assistant district attorney and associate university professor, and is a lay Oblate with New Camaldoli Hermitage near Big Sur, California. Greg’s website is StrategicMonk.com and his email address is StrategicMonk@gmail.com.